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New Zealand

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Extent of whale and dolphin watching

Over 51 known species of marine mammals and some 50% of the world’s cetacean species can be found in New Zealand waters.  Whale watching started in the late 1980’s and now attracts over 550,000 tourists per year1.

Target species, peak times of year and locations:

Whale watching tourism in New Zealand generally focuses on sperm and Bryde’s whales, bottlenose, common, dusky, and Hector’s dolphins. Other species that may be encountered opportunistically during tours include killer, humpback and southern right whales. On occasion it is possible to see blue, fin, sei, minke, pilot, beaked and false killer whales as well as southern right-whale dolphins. There are nine primary locations (see the table below) for commercial marine mammal tourism around the country, and several others where opportunistic and land-based viewing is possible. The largest whale watching operation is based in Kaikoura, where tours focus on sperm whales that frequent underwater canyons close to shore, as well as dolphins, fur seals and sea birds.

Additional information about whale watching opportunities in New Zealand can be found on the following websites:

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Species

County/region

Towns or harbours

Platform (motorized boat, swim-with, aerial)

Peak time of year to observe

Sperm whale (Physeter microcephalus)

South Island

Kaikoura

Boat, Aerial

Year-round

Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni)

Hauraki Gulf

Auckland

Boat

Year-round

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

South Island

Kaikoura

Boat, Aerial

June-July

Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis)

South Island

Kaikoura

Dunedin

Boat

June-Aug

Killer whale (Orcinus Orca)

North Island and northern South Island

Kaikoura

Marlborough Sounds

Tauranga

Auckland

Bay of Islands

Boat

Year-round

Common Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Widespread

Fiordland

Bay of Islands

Auckland

Tauranga

Marlborough Sounds

 

Boat

Year-round

Dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)

South Island

Kaikoura

Marlborough Sounds

Boat, swim-with

Boat

Year-round

June-Aug

Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

North Island and northern South Island

Bay of Islands

Auckland

Tauranga

Marlborough Sounds

Boat

 

Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori)

South Island

Akaroa

Kaikoura

Marlborough Sounds

Boat, swim-with

Boat

Boat

Year-round

 

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Regulations and guidelines

All whale and dolphin species are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. The Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 (with amendments in 2008) set out a regime for permitting commercial tour operators. In addition, local guidelines and Codes of Conduct are in place in certain areas. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) guide the permitting process and provide both mandatory and optional (situation/location/species specific) permit conditions.

The Department of Conservation has issued a useful summary of vessel approach guidelines, which can be accessed online or in PDF format.   The summary includes the following rules:

General

  •  Do not disturb, harass or make loud noises near marine mammals.
  • Contact should be ceased should marine mammals show any signs of becoming disturbed or alarmed.
  • Do not feed or throw any rubbish near marine mammals.
  • Avoid sudden or repeated changes in speed or direction of any vessel or aircraft near a marine mammal.
  • There should be no more than 3 vessels and/or aircraft within 300 m of any marine mammal.

At sea

  • Ensure that you travel no faster than idle or ‘no wake’ speed within 300 m of any marine mammal.
  • Approach whales and dolphins from behind and to the side.
  • Do not circle them, obstruct their path or cut through any group.
  • Keep at least 50 m from whales (or 200 m from any large whale mother and calf or calves).
  • Swimming with whales is not permitted.
  • You may swim with seals and dolphins but not with dolphin pods with very young calves.
  • Avoid approaching closer than 20 m to seals and sea lions hauled out on shore.
  • Idle slowly away. Speed may be gradually increased to out-distance dolphins and should not exceed 10 knots within 300 m of any dolphin.

In the air

  • Aircraft should maintain a horizontal distance of greater than 150 m when flying near any marine mammal.
  • Avoid flying or imposing a shadow directly over a marine mammal either at sea or on shore.

If you notice a marine mammal being harassed, severely injured or entangled, contact DOC immediately on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

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Research on whale and dolphin watching in New Zealand

In the first phase of whale and dolphin-based tourism between 1989 and 2000, studies showed that dusky dolphins near Kaikoura rested most often at midday, that they were accompanied by boats 72% of the time during daylight hours in the summer, and that infractions to the MMPR  were commonly occurring (e.g more than 3 vessels being present within 300m of the same dolphin group or incorrect approaches to dolphin groups)2.  In response to these findings, the Department of Conservation (DOC) issued a 10-year moratorium on the development of any new dolphin watching activities3, and commercial operators agreed to adhere to a voluntary code to respect the dolphins’ midday rest period and refrain from approaching dolphins between 11:30am and 1:30pm4.   

Later studies analyzed the rate of compliance with the voluntary midday rest period, and found that a number of operators still regularly approached dolphins during this time period5,6.  As a result, the midday rest period was added as a mandatory condition on all MMPR permits issued in Kaikoura. These studies also noted that calves were present in over 70% of the dusky dolphin groups that were approached for tourism and swimming5,6.  Swimming with juvenile dolphins is prohibited under the MMPR, but the lack of a clear definition of how to classify and recognize juveniles, and the presence of juveniles in almost every large dolphin group encountered at Kaikoura make this regulation difficult to enforce4, and potentially subject to future review. Further studies found a correlation between the presence of tourism vessels and more frequent direction changes, slower swimming, increased leaping, and reduced resting and socializing among the targeted dolphin groups7.  A related study found that dolphins’ responses to vessel presence appeared to be growing stronger, with slower swimming, less resting and more milling than previously observed8. This study also examined how these short-term reactions could affect the dolphins’ activity and energy budgets and potentially impact their long term fitness8,9.  Studies of sperm whale behaviour in response to whale watching in Kaikoura determined that male sperm whales surfaced and changed direction more frequently in response to vessel presence and circling aircraft10, and that whales’ surfacing and blow frequency also changed in the presence of tour boats that were present roughly half of the time that whales were observed11.   However, the later study also concluded that the regulations in place at that time were most likely sufficient to mitigate any serious long term impacts on the whales if current levels of whale watching pressure did not increase11.

Social science research has clearly confirmed that whale watching was generating important benefits for the local employment market and economy12, but also identified a potential gap in tourists’ expectations and experience, with tourists expressing desire to have more structured education as part of their tour13,14.

In general, these studies are well received by the Department of Conservation, and when research demonstrates a potentially negative impact of tourism, regulations are reviewed and revised as necessary4  More information on the management of whale and dolphin based tourism is available in a case study featuring Kaikoura here.

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Références

Afficher / Masquer les références
  1. O’Connor, S., Campbell, R., Cortez, H. & Knowles, T. Whale Watching Worldwide: tourism numbers, expenditures and expanding economic benefits. 1-295 (International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth MA, USA, 2009).
  2. Barr, K. & Slooten, E. Effects of tourism on Dusky dolphins at Kaikoura 1-30 (1998).
  3. Childerhouse, S. & Baxter, A. in The dusky dolphin: master acrobat off different shores (eds B. Würsig & M Würsig)  245-275 (Elsevier Academic Press, 2010).
  4. Lundquist, D. Management of dusky dophin tourism at Kaikoura, New Zealand. in Whale-watching: Sustainable Tourism and Ecological Management   (eds J. E. S. Higham, L. Beijder, & R. Williams) Ch. 23, 337-351 (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
  5. Duprey, N. M. T., Weir, J. S. & Würsig, B. Effectiveness of a voluntary code of conduct in reducing vessel traffic around dolphins. Ocean and Coastal Management 51, 632–637 (2008).
  6. Markowitz, T. M. Social organization of the New Zealand dusky dolphin, Texas A&M University, (2004).
  7. Markowitz, T. M., DuFresne, S. & Würsig, B. Tourism effects on dusky dolphins at Kaikoura, New Zealand. 93 (Wellington, New Zealand, 2009).
  8. Lundquist, D., Gemmell, N. J. & Würsig, B. Behavioural Responses of Dusky Dolphin Groups (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) to Tour Vessels off Kaikoura, New Zealand. PLOS ONE 7, e41969, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041969 (2012).
  9. Lundquist, D., Gemmell, N. J., Würsig, B. & Markowitz, T. Dusky dolphin movement patterns: short-term effects of tourism. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 47, 430-449, doi:10.1080/00288330.2013.778301 (2013).
  10. Richter, C., Dawson, S. & Slooten, E. Impacts of commercial whale watching on male sperm whales at Kaikoura, New Zealand. Marine Mammal Science 22, 46-63 (2006).
  11. Markowitz, T. M., Richter, C. & Gordon, J. Effects of tourism on the behaviour of sperm whales inhabiting the Kaikoura Canyon. Unpublished report to the Department of Conservation, New Zealand, 123 (2011).
  12. Simmons, D. G. Kaikoura (New Zealand): The concurrrence of Maori values,  governance and economic need in Whale-watching: Sustainable Tourism and Ecological Management   (eds J. E. S. Higham, L. Beijder, & R. Williams) Ch. 22, 323-336 (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
  13. Lück, M. Education on marine mammal tours as agent for conservation - but do tourists want to be educated? Ocean and Coastal Management 46, 943-956 (2003).
  14. Lück, M. & Porter, B. A. Experiences on swim-with-dolphins tours: an importance–performance analysis of dolphin tour participants in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Journal of Ecotourism, 1-17, doi:10.1080/14724049.2017.1353609 (2017).

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